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ON INTERPRETING LOCKE F. H. ANDERSON J OHN LOCKE plays an extraordinary role among classic philosophers. His political doctrines have with unabashed literalness passed into constitutional practice, while his theory of knowledge has become a .commonplace the world over. His Essay concerning Human , Understanding, someone has justly remarked, "is - one of those books which have been so thoroughly assimilated by that part of the world which cares it?- the most cursory manner for speculative subjects, that large num~ bers of people naturally suppose themselves to have read it, when in point of fact they never have." And his career is remarkable in another respect; that coherency in argument and ordered sequence in presentation which are demanded of the philosophic theorist are not looked for in this lCingenious writer." No one, apparently , presumes logical urbanity in his case. His acute "perception of fact" sometimes atones for inconsequence of statement; usually, however, the modern critic, in pursui't of prevalent philosophic designs, regards his work at the outset as a singular assemblage of epistemological shreds and political patches. This verdict, of course, does not necessarily occasion every inquirer about Locke great concern; what appears to'.the philosophical commentator as dire necessity may often be accepted as a promising sign of abundant life by the litterateur. Classic writing, for the latter, is neither made nor destroyed by metaphysical scaffolding; the overwrought and overladen language of philosophic propositions is not of the essence of prose; its ultimates are a little too- pretentious; its renunciation of style is the patent sign of- literary ' 524 ON INTERPRETING LOCKE insipidity. These are consolations, ~owever, which are denied the eager student of Locke, who is repeatedly assured that this writer is quite without the gift of style. "He seems," deplores the typical critic, ((to have a contempt for all the arts of literature, and passes from sentence to .sentence, like. a man talking aloud in his study." Thus ·are Locke's host of effective. utterances, which have been assimilated into the language and ullder~ standing of the world, deprived by literary law-givers of status in the empire of letters. Of status in the empire of letters, but not of authority in the commonwealth of ideas: no commentator \vho possesses even a Ineagre acquaintance with the history of· Western thought, quite regardless ofLocke's contributions in the fields 0"[ epistemology and politics, would be prepared to deny the Essay concerning Human Understanding a pre-eminent agency in authorizing and liherating two classes of objects dear to all literary critics, namely, "the senses"-puritan though the author is-and "ideas," as distinct from phantasy. To be sure, others before Locke acknowJedge the efficacy of the senses in the production of noetic essences, but none is prepared to endow them with epistemological rights of their own. Writers of the schools recognize the function of sensation in human perception , with the addendum that celestial beings do not require this faculty. Others make sensation the source of atheism or agnosticism or immorality. Locke accepts it u.nashamedly as the normal activity of human capacity. And when, as a result of this·acquiescence, the inevitable '·'sensualist" is hurled in his direction, he.retorts: "A man that insinuates ... as· 'if I held that the distinction of virtue and vice is to be picked up by our eyes or ears or our nostrils, shows so much ignorance or so much malice that he deserves no. other ans'wer but pity." The career 525 THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY of sensation after Locke's bestowal of enfranchisement could not be recorded in a life-time of labour. I t is the mediuJ terminuJ of endless literary dispute. No thinker. in any subject from religion to politics, from science,to art, overlooks it. The source of many an aesthetic, ,it preserves Anglo-Saxon criticism from Cantinental "profundities ;" and, not least, it assists in creating an 'environment in which sensuous poetry arises and attains unto great beauty. Locke frees ideas from theological, political, and metaphysical subjection. His account of them as the objects of human thinking is greeted with sneers by the learned and with' fears by those whose business it is to instruct simple souls, while one...


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